Law Firms Have Made No Real Progress in Promoting Women Lawyers in Nearly a Decade, According to Ninth Annual Survey by National Association of Women Lawyers

CHICAGO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Women equity partners at law firms are not much better off than they
were in 2006, according to the latest study by the National Association
of Women Lawyers® (NAWL). The survey found that law firms have made no
appreciable progress in the rate at which they are promoting women to
equity partner, and male equity partners continue to be compensated at
much higher levels than female equity partners.

In 2006, NAWL issued the NAWL Challenge: increase the number of women
equity partners, women chief legal officers, and women tenured law
professors to at least 30% by 2015, and it conducted its benchmark
survey on this subject. Each year, the survey enables productive
discussion by reporting objective statistics regarding the advancement
of women lawyers into the highest levels of private practice. For the
past 10 years, it has tracked the professional progress of women in the
nation’s 200 largest law firms by providing a comparative view of the
careers and compensation of men and women lawyers at all levels of
private practice, as well as by analyzing data about the factors that
influence career progression.

This year’s law firm results are generally similar to what was reported
at the start of the NAWL Challenge nearly a decade ago. According to
this year’s Report of the Ninth Annual NAWL National Survey on Retention
and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, women comprise 18% of equity
partners, up only 2% from the 2006 survey. If the pace of progress over
the past 10 years continues, women equity partners will not reach the
NAWL Challenge goal of 30% until the year 2181. The author of the report
notes that this is “a story of institutional failure.” However, the
percentage of women in corporate general counsel positions and law
school tenured faculty have fared better than women equity partners in
law firms. Women now represent approximately 23% of Fortune 500 general
counsel (according to a 2015 report by MassMutual) and 37.5% of tenured
positions (according to a Catalyst Knowledge Center report from 2015).

“NAWL issued the Challenge to ignite the conversation about the
under-representation of women in the legal profession,” said NAWL
President Marsha L. Anastasia. “We are committed to highlighting these
issues and bringing the legal profession together to work on them and
share best practices. After all, studies show that having a woman’s
point of view drives better business results.”

As stated in the report: “The gender gap is far more appropriately
described as a gender gulf, and achievement of the NAWL Challenge within
law firms remains an elusive goal. The survey responses report a level
of stagnation with respect to achieving gender parity that ought to
serve as a wake-up call to the profession.”

Below are some of the survey’s key findings: (For the complete report,
please visit


Firms have made no appreciable progress in the rate at which
they are promoting women into the role of equity partner.

Women still only comprise approximately 18% of equity partnership
– only 2% higher than in 2006.


Men continue to be promoted to non-equity partner status in
significantly higher numbers than women.
Among the non-equity
partners who graduated from law school in 2004 and later, 38% were
women and 62% were men. While this is higher than in 2006, when 26
percent of non-equity partners were women, this data remains
vexing in light of the longstanding pipeline of women, as women
have been graduating from law school in nearly equal numbers as
men for decades.


The compensation gender gap remains wide. Not one of the
responding law firms reported having a woman as its highest
earner. The typical female equity partner earns 80% of what a
typical male equity partner earns, down from 84% in the first
survey. Thus, the women have fallen farther behind over the past


Women continue to be underrepresented on the highest governance
The typical firm has two women and eight men on
their highest U.S.-based governance committee. While the 22
percent female representation is an increase from 16% in 2006, it
still only represents one additional woman over a 10-year period.
Women do slightly better in achieving these key leadership roles
at AmLaw 100 firms, compared to the Second Hundred, but both
groups report numbers that demonstrate limited progress when
compared to the decades-long pipeline of women in the profession.


Women are underrepresented on compensation committees, yet law
firms that report more women on their compensation committees have
narrower gender pay gaps.
In the firms that reported having
two or fewer female members on the compensation committee, the
typical female equity partner earns 77% of that earned by a
typical male equity partner, compared to 89% in the last survey
(the first time this question was asked). In the firms that
reported three or more women on the compensation committee, the
typical female equity partner earns 87% of that earned by a
typical male equity partner, whereas in the last survey the gender
pay gap was essentially eliminated.


Men continue to outpace women in rainmaking credit. There
is a wider gender gap in client origination credit than in the
last survey (the first time this question was asked). Among the
firms that provided data regarding the gender of the 10 lawyers
who generated the highest revenue, 88% of the top 10 were men and
12% were women, down from 14% in the last survey.


Even though female equity partners report higher overall
working hours, men continue to generate higher revenues from
client billings than women.
The typical female equity partner
bills only 78% of what a typical male equity partner bills. When
asked to report total client billable and non-billable hours,
however, the total hours for women equity partners exceeded the
total hours for men equity partners. The median hours reported for
women were 2,224 compared to 2,198 for men. This data raises
questions about whether committee assignments, hourly billing
rates, and the distribution of pro bono hours contribute to
disparities in client billings.


There are more male associates than female associates in the
U.S. offices of the respondents, including at the more junior and
senior levels, suggesting that women may be turning to other
Women comprise only 44% of associates, compared
to 45% in 2006.


The data continues to be challenging for other diverse groups.
Lawyers of color represent 8% of the law firm equity partners.
LGBT lawyers comprise 2% of equity partners.


Every law firm respondent reported having a women’s initiative,
but the budgets allocated are too small to accomplish strategic
This question was first asked in 2012 in NAWL’s Women’s
Initiative Survey. At that time, the report noted that “the
typical law firm spends far less on its women’s initiatives than
the salary of a first-year associate.” This year, 75% of the
responding law firms reported having formal budgets for their
women’s initiatives. However, there is a significant variance
between the median budgets in AmLaw 100 firms and the budgets
reported in the Second Hundred.

The median annual budget for women’s initiatives in the AmLaw 100 is
$112,500, compared to $119,000 in 2012; for the Second Hundred, the
median annual budget is $82,000, up 71 percent from $48,000 in 2012.

Survey Methodology

The NAWL Survey was sent in February 2015 to the 200 largest firms in
the United States, as ranked by The American Lawyer. The firms
were divided into two categories: the AmLaw 100 and the Second Hundred
(the firms which rank 101-200 in financial performance). To measure
representativeness of the survey sample, survey respondents were
compared to the population of the AmLaw 200 firms. Of the 200 firms
contacted, 73 responded.

About the National Association of Women Lawyers

The mission of the National Association of Women Lawyers is to provide
leadership, a collective voice and essential resources to advance women
in the legal profession and advocate for the equality of women under the
law. Since 1899, NAWL has been empowering women in the legal profession,
cultivating a diverse membership dedicated to equality, mutual support,
and collective success. If you are not already a member, please consider
joining. NAWL welcomes the membership of individual attorneys, including
private practice, corporate, academic, government and non-profit
attorneys, and groups, including law firms, corporate legal departments,
law schools and bar associations. Learn more at


National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL)
Jenny Waters,